Authors Note; This story was written about six months ago for an English class. The theme was "different/differences".
This is technically unbeta'd.
Warnings; Implied underage consumption of alcohol, child abuse, moderate foul language.
Anything you might recognise, I don't own.
(Im)Perfect World (Or; Yohoho and a bottle of…)
"You know that one friend you can trust with anything?" Rhianne asks, glancing over at him and smiling softly.
"Yeah," he says, even though he doesn't. He's never spent long enough in one school to make a best friend, always moving as soon as he's settled down. It's two months into the school year, and he's already on his third school.
"You're not it," she finishes, taking a swig of the bottle of rum they'd liberated from her fathers alcohol cabinet. They're lying on the bonnet of her car, a picnic basket lying abandoned between them. The unusually hot autumn sun is pressing down on the cracked earth of the lookout, toasting already dried grass, and they've stripped down to singlets and shorts, thongs lying on the ground at the front of the car. It's late afternoon, and they've spent most of their day hanging around the shopping centre in the middle of town, but a sighting of Corrie, Rhianne's "worst enemy", drove them out of the shops and up to the ranges that tower over the small country town.
He snorts. "Gee, thanks." He knows he isn't, but he doesn't think that she has anyone like that. He's seen the looks that Corrie gives her in the school corridor, so he thinks there's a story there, especially with the amount of pictures that Rhianne has of the two of them together as children in her scrapbook. He doesn't ask about it though, not because he doesn't care, but because he remembers what it's like to lose a friend. God knows he's lost so many. She passes the bottle over without him asking, and he takes a sip, frowning at the burn as the liquid slides down his throat. He's had better, but he won't complain; he's had far worse as well.
"So who's yours, then?" He doesn't really care about who it is, since it's not Corrie and it's not him, and while he likes all of her friends, he doesn't actually remember their names. It's pretty obvious that she wants to talk about it though, so he asks, sipping from the bottle and holding back his coughs as the fluid goes down the wrong way.
"Dunno. Kirstie, maybe? She can't really judge me for the shit I've done, 'cause she's done far worse. I dunno why I even brought it up." She shrugs, her red hair made fiery by the setting sun. He's always liked fire, likes the way it dances, beautiful and untouchable, a giver of light and a taker of life. His mother used to let him light the fires in their backyard before they moved, again and again until he couldn't even remember the names of the schools he'd been to, before the faces, towns and houses began to blur together, his father an unreliable but constant presence in an ever-changing world of strangers and strange places. His father hated fire, probably too afraid that the fumes on his breath would catch alight.
"'Cause you're saying anything that comes into your head?" he offers, watching the shadows they're casting on the pea-green paint of the car. As far as some of the friends he's made over the years go, Rhianne wasn't that bad. He'd spent three months with the stoners last year in his fifth school, and two schools before that a month with the :fight club". Stealing rum was hardly a dark spot on his conscience, tainted as it was by the company he'd kept, the deeds he'd done to fit in. He still hadn't found the perfect niche to fit in, despite the dozens of schools, the various cliques he'd briefly been a part of. Rhianne and her friends were pretty much the closest he'd gotten to fitting in, aided in part by the fact that they were all misfits of some description. Rhianne was probably a genius, that skinny chick (Kitty? Kristy?) was half deaf, the blonde (Taylor?) was transgender, and Derek was the only "out" guy in the entire school. His lock had seen a hundred different lockers, and his folder was covered in the scribbles of students from different schools all over the country. He answered just as easily to calls of "new guy" as to his actual name.
"Yeah, probably. That or the booze is getting to me," she sighs, closes her eyes against the glare of the sun and tilts her head towards his. "God, I hate this place," she murmurs.
He looks around, taking in the rubbish crowded against the road, the graffitied sign and the town, spread out below them like a ridiculously elaborate model, complete with traffic and tiny people. It's not the worst place he's lived in, but to be fair, he'd spent two months in a sewer a few years back, when his father was really low on money. The only problem with this town was that it was so boring, especially for a teenager who'd spent a lifetime getting to know the nooks and crannies of it and had nothing better to do than steal alcohol and drive up to the lookout with the new kid.
"Soon as I graduate, I'm out of here," she says, "I'm gonna take the world by storm, just you see." she smiles to herself, no doubt imagining a world where everyone knew her name.
"How are you going to do that?" he asks, genuinely interested. With Rhianne, it could be anything from a cure to the common cold to creating a weather machine and causing mass storms everywhere. Derek had taken great pleasure in telling him about the time she created a working robot in grade three, before blowing it up several weeks later.
"Create the cure for cancer," she replies, then grins, "Duh."
That startles a laugh out of him, because she could; she was smart enough, driven enough to do it. It would be nice to see her face smiling out of the TV in a few decades time, right where she wants to be. He knows what he wants; a steady job, a wife who loves him, two kids, maybe a dog. Normal, and as far from the life his father is leading as he can possibly get.
"You could," he says, and takes another swig. The alcohol is starting to get to him, he can tell. The world is getting blurry around the edges, but he feels like there's nothing he can't do, except maybe stand. He suppresses the urge to clamber up to the roof of the car and sing "Eye of the Tiger", not out of embarrassment, but the feeling that anything that involves being high up and without support will result in lots of blood and an awkward trip to the ER. He doesn't really care about blood or pain, after the month in a "fight club" when he'd staggered home every day after school with injuries and treated them with his own shaking hands because his dad was too drunk, too lazy, to get up from where he'd collapsed on the couch, but he does try to avoid it where possible. He's a daredevil, not a masochist.
"I will." she whispers, almost too quiet for him to hear. They're silent for several minutes, sitting together in comfortable silence as they eat the remainder of the "picnic" (KFC chicken and McDonalds chips, with treats from the bakery.)
He's at the edge of sleep, using their shirts as a pillow and his eyes flutter closed just as Rhianne nudges him awake. He gives a start, and opens his mouth to ask what the matter is when he sees she's pointing at something with one hand, the other making the universal gesture for "stay quiet".
Less than twenty metres down the slope that led to town, a mob of kangaroos bounds past, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.
"Wow," Rhianne murmurs as they twist to watch them go. "Even out here, we don't see that very often." He doesn't reply, too busy trying to catch a glimpse of the straggler's tails, but to no avail.
"The sun's setting," she notes, her eyes on the sky. It was growing steadily darker. "We should head home."
He hasn't really thought about the decrease in temperature, but now that he's paying attention to it, it was actually rather cold, the heat from the day leeching out and leaving a cool night in its wake. It's been the same the entire time he's been living in the town, with nothing to retain the day's heat. He pulls his shirt back on. Rhianne does the same, and together they pack up the picnic basket, placing it and the still half full bottle of rum in the back seat. The car creaks as they slump into the front seats.
Rhianne moves to start the car, but is stopped by his hand on her arm. She glances at him quizzically and he inclines his head towards the sunset, not taking his eyes off the sight in front of him; The clouds in the distance are tinged pink and the sky around the horizon is a deep orange, fading into the brilliant blue of the night sky above them. The stars are just beginning to come out, tiny spots of light scattered across a darkening tapestry. He shivers, partly cold, partly awestruck. Rhianne does the same beside him.
They sit there in silence for what feels like hours, each second stretching like an eternity into the next, but all too soon the sun and its afterglow fades, leaving them staring at the night sky.
"We should really get going," he murmurs, breaking the spell.
"Yeah, we should." Rhianne says, and she starts the car. He groans as the car bumps onto the tarmac and the world starts spinning. He looks in the vanity mirror and moans; He's slightly green even in the dim light from the headlights, and Rhianne chuckles.
"If you vomit in my car, you're cleaning it up and paying for new upholstery." She warns, eyeing him warily. He groans again.
"Eyes on the road," he manages to get out between gritted teeth. "I don't want to die."
"Relax, Damien. I'm a brilliant driver," she says as they careen around a corner, the tires squealing in protest. He feels his stomach churning angrily several hundred metres behind them. In retrospect, he thinks, perhaps he shouldn't have had so much from the food court earlier in the day, or eaten as much of the picnic, as it was threatening to come back up with a vengeance.
Within a few terrifying minutes, the car screeches to a stop beside the latest in the long line of houses he's lived in. The neighbour, an elderly lady, glances up from where she is sitting on her wooden porch, knitting needles in her hands and a basket of wool by her feet, her work illuminated by a single porch light. He waves at her as he pulls himself out of the car, then covers his mouth to stop himself from vomiting over the front yard.
Rhianne climbs out of the car as well, letting it idle by the curb as they walk to the door. He considers mentioning that he isn't a girl, that he doesn't need a chaperone to walk the few metres between the street and the front door, but holds his tongue. It seems like a rude thing to say to a girl, especially one as independent and anti-conservative as Rhianne, and he isn't masochistic enough to risk getting a punch to the arm. Rhianne is surprisingly strong for someone with such a small, delicate frame.
'Thanks for the day out." he says as they reach the door. She smiles and gives him a hug.
"That's okay. I'm glad you came. You're a great guy, Damien. I hope you stay here for a while."
Her hair is shining in the orange glow from the street light, surrounding her face with a fiery halo. She looks like a warrior angel from the stories his mother used to read to him at night as a child.
"I hope I do too," he confesses. "I don't want to move again. I like you guys." Rhianne's smile grows wider, and she pulls him in for another hug. He isn't used to hugs, to physical contact of any kind. Some of his friends from his old schools used to punch him affectionately, and he remembers his mother giving him hugs, but for the majority of his life, he's been alone, so physical affection doesn't come naturally to him. It does feel nice though, to have someone's arms around him, even for a few seconds, even from a girl he's only known for a few short weeks.
For a brief moment, for one of the first times in his life, Damien is happy, despite the new school, the lack of money, how behind he is in class, and his father drinking. There's something about Rhianne, something that eclipses all the bad things and makes him glad to be alive.
"Thank you," he whispers into her hair, holding back tears. She pulls away, pausing for a moment to look at him, then makes her way back to the car, smiling and waving. She pulls out and drives off. He stands in the doorway and watches her go, keeping his eyes on her tail-lights as they grow further away and finally turn a corner, leaving him staring at nothing.
"She your girlfriend?" calls his neighbour, her hands still clutching the knitting needles.
"No, definitely not." he says, shaking his head. It's not like he wouldn't date her given the chance, but she's far too good for him, with her loving parents and her apple-pie life.
"Seems like she wouldn't mind if she was," the woman comments, before turning back to her knitting.
He shakes his head again and makes his way through the small house to the bathroom, having a quick shower to get rid of most of the smell of alcohol. The water is cold, but it helps sober him up a bit, and his head is clearer when he steps out from under the spray. His clothes, smelling of alcohol and fast food, go into the bottom of the laundry pile, with the theory that, if asked, he can say that the smell of alcohol comes from his father's clothes, not his.
He glances at his phone when he's in his room, and smiles. At some point, Rhianne had stolen his phone and taken several selfies, then put one as the background. She smiles up at him from the screen, reminding him of the wonderful day they'd spent together.
Maybe his father would manage to keep this job, maybe they could stay, and he could graduate from here and not lose touch with Rhianne and her friends when they left, he thinks, lying on his back on the bed, too comfortable to turn off the light or do his homework, like he should. Maybe it could all work out. He isn't sure how, but maybe, somehow, in a perfect world, it would work.
The problem is, he adds to himself as a car pulls up into the driveway, as the door slams shut and feet crunch across the dry grass, as a man yells angrily for him, storming down the short corridor and wrenching the door open, hands clenched and face stormy, fists already raised, the world is anything but perfect.
He won't show anyone the bruises the next day, just as he's never shown anyone before. He only has a few years to go before he can leave once and for all, pack his bags and never look back at the mess that claims to be his father. As the fists rain down on him, hitting any limb they can, he feels a stab of pity for the drunk ruin of a man above him. At least he can get out, leave the cycle of drunkenness behind, but this man, this monster, this pathetic, sad mess, never can.
Later, when his father leaves him to clean his wounds, he pull out his phone again, and sighs, because if there is one thing he knows, more than anything else, it is that the world definitely isn't as perfect as he wants it to be.
But that's okay, because the time he spends with Rhianne will definitely be among the happiest in his life, and when he moves away again a few weeks later, they don't lose touch but they don't see each other much either, so a few years later he gives her a call and they catch up for coffee. She's already working as an intern in a medical research facility, and he hasn't talked to his father since he graduated, but he has a steady job as a teacher. They have coffee, and catch up, and decide to meet again every few weeks. Every few weeks turn into every week, and those meetings turn into dates, and by the time she's found the cure, they're happily married with two kids and a dog and a house in the suburbs, and no, their lives aren't perfect, but they're pretty close.
(Every now and then, they'll drive up with the kids to see her parents, still living in the same house, and they leave the kids and drive up to the lookout with a bottle of rum and greasy takeaway, and watch the sun go down, and it's like when they were teenagers, but better, because he can hold his liquor now and he actually gets that she wouldn't mind him kissing her, instead of being entirely clueless.
Sometimes, when they're really lucky, a mob of kangaroos bound past, leaving a trail of dust behind them, and the world actually does seem perfect, if just for a moment.)
A/N; I'm a sucker for a happy ending. Can you tell?
Feel free to review.